The impact of our clothes

Lucy Randle

Sep 1, 2021

The impact of fast fashion on the environment is well documented and generating more and more attention, but still huge amounts of poor quality and surplus clothing is created and discarded. It is estimated that in the UK alone 300,000 garments are thrown away into household bins each year. Considering also that the carbon footprint of one cotton t-shirt can be up to 15Kg of carbon dioxide equivalent over its lifetime, that one kilogram of cotton takes 10,000 litres of water to grow, and that up to 700,000 microfibers can be released in one load of laundry, it is no wonder people are seeking alternatives.

Quality over quantity

Perception of clothing has been an important factor in the development of fast fashion; the treatment of clothes as disposable has been encouraged by producers to sell more items, causing steep declines in quality and the rise of throwaway culture. When we consider clothes as an investment it moves focus to selecting clothes that will last and are usable for multiple occasions, which overall increases quality and reduces quantity of clothes bought. Some have criticized this approach to clothing as being inaccessible to those with less income, but when we have higher quality clothes circulating, durable high-quality clothes become more accessible than before, and the shift of focus to longevity could reduce costs long-term.


As well as encouraging overconsumption, some businesses use other sales methods that we may not realise have hidden consequences. An example of this is returns; many people consider free returns a way of trying on as many clothes as they like and then returning the majority, but many retailers do not have the facilities to effectively process returns and lots of clothes end up landfilled, on top of the carbon cost of packaging and transporting so many additional items.

Second hand

Shopping second-hand is a great way to reduce the footprint of your wardrobe without breaking the bank. There is a growing market for second hand clothing and it has never been easier to find pre-loved clothes. The stigma surrounding second hand clothes is waning, particularly with the rise in popularity of vintage fashion and clothing selling apps like Depop, and many people find it empowering to make their shopping habits an act of environmental protection.

Charity shops have always been a favourite in the UK, and while there are still many on the high street some charities like Oxfam and Sense now have shops online. In addition to this, new online second-hand retailers such as Thrift+ have popped up, offering big brand names for a fraction of original retail cost.

Also, exchanging clothes with family, friends and co-workers can be a great way to refresh your wardrobe, whether it be through hand-me-downs, clothes swaps, or just giving away clothes you don’t wear anymore to someone who will. Clothes swaps are a fun way to source new (to you) clothes, and can be an organised event through work or social groups where people bring/leave a certain number of items and no money is needed, or can just be the act of sharing clothing among friends.


Rental is becoming more of a popular option when it comes to clothing, allowing people to have access to high quality garments and a changing wardrobe without the environmental (or financial) implications of buying new clothes each time. An example of this is Nuuly, a subscription service allowing users to rent any 6 styles in a month.

Repairing clothes

Repairing clothing can seem daunting, but just a few skills like the examples below can be applied to many types of clothes and stop a loved item being thrown away.

Sewing a patch

When holes appear in areas of high wear like the knee of a pair of jeans, these can be fixed with a patch either inside or outside the fabric. An iron-on patch ironed on to the inside and then stitched over keeps the mend subtle, while a statement fabric sewn to the outside can create a new accent on a garment.


When holes appear in knitwear, you can fix them by darning. This involves crossing over the hole with a yarn or thread to create a criss-cross pattern, and then weaving between the stitches you have created, which then builds up the structure of the fabric again. It can help to use a curved object to hold the fabric against, to guide the restructuring.

And if you find joy in repairing your clothes, creating your own from unwanted garments or reclaimed fabric is a great way to reduce the footprint of your clothes while also starting a new hobby.